For some reason, a memory suddenly surfaced the other day--about the time I accidentally went on a date.
It was during a field trip during my sophomore year of high school. I can't remember exactly where we went, but it was to some old-fashioned mansion with a local history museum nearby. Being the socially inept semi-outcast that I was, I was overjoyed that one of my few good friends was actually on the trip with me. So I spent pretty much the entire day hanging out with him to avoid an utterly miserable experience.
But my friend was also kind of a weird guy, and he was spending most of the day trying to get with this cute brunette in our class. Surprisingly, she seemed unopposed to his casual advances. And amusingly, she also had a friend who seemed to be relying on her company to avoid a horrible day. So the day became Mark and Alicia flirting while Sarah and I followed them around.
There was a point during the day when our teachers turned us loose in the nearby town to get some lunch before the long ride back to school. Since the four of us had been hanging out for most of the day, we just kind of naturally migrated together to the same greasy-spoon restaurant. Mark picked out a booth and the four of us sat down--Mark across from Alicia and me across from Sarah.
We had a nice time. For a while, the talk dissolved into two separate, parallel conversations. Mark and Alicia talked while Sarah and I talked. I didn't find Sarah particularly attractive physically, but I had a lot of respect for her as a person. We'd been in the same schools since kindergarten, and even though we weren't friends, she was clearly an intelligent, kind and principled person. For the first time in the ten years we'd been in school together, I got to know her a little bit. I don't remember much of what we talked about, but I do recall a specific conversation about The Music Man. See, the Matthew Broderick version had recently come out on television, and she hadn't seen it yet. She was a fan of the Robert Preston version, though, and I remember trying to help her guage whether or not she'd like the newer one.
It was kind of fun eating in a restaurant with my friend with two nice girls who seemed interested in us, talking about ourselves and our interests and getting to know each other....
Suddenly, I realized that this was kind of a double-date. And I was only fifteen. I wasn't allowed to go on dates until the next year--it specifically stated such in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet. This was like half-breaking the law of chastity. And suddenly I felt really, really awkward.
Looking back, I realize with a little pride that my reaction was not this is wrong. My thought process was more along the lines of I could get in trouble for this. It didn't feel wrong. It was nice. And the two girls in question had arguably the best combination of niceness and not-slutty-ness in our class. It was a totally wholesome experience. And I think, in the back of my mind, behind all that Mormon programming, I understood that.
However, I couldn't permit myself to enjoy it. Because even though I was too much of a wuss to extricate myself from the situation I considered to be "against my religion," I figured the next best thing would be for me to just endure it pleasurelessly. And once I'd realized how date-like the situation was, it became very easy for me to have zero fun.
When we were having an animated conversation about The Music Man, I momentarily felt like a smooth operator. I was maintaining a fluid, stimulating conversation with a reasonably attractive girl and I actually felt pretty at ease about it. But once it dawned on me that I was in violation of the dating guidelines set out by the church leadership, that feeling disappeared. I imagine that Sarah noticed my growing awkwardness but she was just too nice to acknowledge it. I gained no experience in the dating arena but I began to associate an intense discomfort with it.
Fast forward seven or eight years to the early stages of my relationship with my girlfriend, and the accidental date remained my sole dating experience. Obviously, my dating skills had progressed exactly not at all. I was lucky enough that she asked me out, because if I'd attempted to initiate something with a girl I was interested in, I would have been completely hopeless. It's a lot harder to flirt than it is to simply flirt back.
This post feels kind of meandering and possibly pointless. I guess this is just a specific addendum to How Mormonism Stunted My Social Development. Or maybe I just felt the need to record yet another episode from my life in which a positive experience was ruined by my Mormon upbringing.